Cultural understanding grows from the storehouse of facts and experiences that you impart to your students as you teach them from day to day. To understand a complex and beautiful piece of literature or music your students must already know a great deal about the world — names, places, people, and events, that may seem at first to be disconnected.
This post is about a piece of music, but it begins with an anniversary. On this day in 1845, one of the most famous sailing voyages of the nineteenth century began — and with it, one of that century’s greatest mysteries.
On the 19th of May in 1845, British admiral Sir John Franklin sailed from Greenhithe in England with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, in the hopes of discovering the Northwest Passage: the postulated northern route from the Davis Strait off the coast of Greenland to the Beaufort Sea above Alaska that would eliminate the need to sail all the way around the tip of South America (“around the Horn”) to get to the Far East. Franklin and his expedition, 149 men in all, disappeared, and were never heard from again.
You could develop an entire homeschool curriculum based on the Franklin expedition and the search for the Northwest Passage. Many additional ships were sent in search of Franklin, and some found scraps of evidence. Interviews with Inuit hunters turned up reports of starving men seen years before who had appeared to be shipwreck survivors. But the ships themselves and what happened to them remained a mystery.
Or at least it did until just recently. For a number of years the Canadian national park service has been conducting research on the fate of the Franklin expedition, and in 2014, in a remarkable feat of underwater archeology, they discovered HMS Erebus, intact, on the sea floor near King William Island in Nunavut (Northwest Territories). Two years later, in 2016, they discovered HMS Terror about 50 miles further north. You can read about all these remarkable discoveries on the Parks Canada website:
But this post is about a piece of music.
The great Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers, who died tragically in an airplane fire in 1983, wrote a small masterpiece called “Northwest Passage” that has become a kind of second national anthem of Canada. It tells the story of a modern traveler driving along the well-paved highways of the far north, and imagining the explorers who went before him.
Here’s the trailer for a documentary film on Rogers’ life and art, “One Warm Line,” that features this song. With the historical background above, the names and places and events, you’ll be able to appreciate its rich cultural and historical context and understand what a real gem it is:
And here’s a studio recording of the full song:
Why not sit down this week with your students and your atlas (riverhouses.org/books), and listen to Stan Rogers, and follow the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea.
What artistic discoveries have you made in your homeschool lately? 😊